Jimmy Carr: "Sometimes you say things that are so mean, you just know that person's going to wake up at four in the morning in a cold sweat"
Over the course of my 15-minute conversation with comedian Jimmy Carr, our phone call dropped its connection four times. The Brit could have been very mean about it. In fact, judging from his reputation on stage, Carr could have been lethal. Instead, the 45-year-old didn't lose his cool throughout each hiccup. Even if he did, his patient demeanor sure masked it well. Enough for a show promotion, of course.
To say I was nervous was a huge understatement. Carr was one of the first British stand-up comedians I religiously watched on YouTube, responsible for fits of cackling laughter well into the night. His brand of comedy — crude, deadpan and brutal — appealed to the side of anyone who had that teensy side to him or her that's just a tad sexist, patronising, and sinister. Nothing's off-limits to him, be it religion, bestiality, incest and misogyny. You wouldn't want to get on the comedian's bad side, although it could reap some benefits. His shows often slot in time for hecklers, who he happily encourages and banters with. Some of Carr's most demeaning jokes even involve his girlfriend, television producer Karoline Copping, whom he's been with since 2001. Instead of weaving observational vignettes, Carr delivers one-liner jokes one after the other like stealth fistfuls of insults. He does this with a disarming smile, dressed in a well-cut suit and at times, a bow tie to boot.
I caught up with Carr while he was in a car on the way to the studio, a few days before his appearance in Montreal for the Just For Laughs comedy festival. Returning to Singapore (he performed 'Funny Business' back in 2016) to bring 'The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits' show in September, the comedian's on a roll with nine sell-out tours to his name. Besides stand-up, Carr is admired for hosting British panel shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats and Big Fat Quiz of the Year. In October, he'll launch a new panel show on Netflix called The Fix, which also features comics such as Katherine Ryan and D.L. Hughley.
"People don't want comedy, they need it," affirmed Carr as we talked about the longevity of his career, which has spanned over a decade and a half. "You need to go out and unwind. It's almost like I'm a drug dealer but you've already gotten the druges on you. The drugs I'm dealing are endorphins."
I discovered you on YouTube. Do you get feedback more directly, now that people can comment on and share your videos ? Do you ever read the comments left on your YouTube clips?
I don't. The thing about feedback for comedy is we already get great feedback — the laughter you watch on those clips. That's the feedback loop. When I talk on stage, it seems like it's a monologue but it's not. It's a conversation.
Speaking of laughter, I have to ask about this: England's performance at the World Cup laughable for you?
No, I think they did incredibly well. I mean I think you'd be crazy to put all your hopes and dreams in a team, but it was a fun thing to watch. Hey how did Singapore do? Hey hang on-
Let's not even bring that up at all.
But you put on a couple of spectacular things. You have the Formula 1. You've got The Killers performing. I just saw them in London and it was unbelievable.
What's your favourite song from The Killers?
I would go with maybe 'The Man' at the moment. I really like their new stuff. I like anything from Sam's Town. I'm a huge Killers fan. You know that show, Are You Smarter than a 10-year-old?, where you compete against kids? I was on that show and the topic was the The Killers. I knew too much. I know the guys in the band so I asked them some of the questions afterwards. They didn't even know the answers. I know more about them then they do.
What else are you looking forward to doings in Singapore?
I'm going to go drinking in Raffles, eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor.
No! That's such a touristy thing to do. Don't do that.
I like the touristy things in Singapore. The other thing I found extraordinary about the city that no one else does is that you seem to plant trees in the middle of skyscrapers. No one else does that.
Have you been to the Four Floors of Whores?
Have I been to what?
Yeah, it's a thing.
It sounds like a hell of a thing. Is it literally four floors of whores?
Yes, it's in Orchard Road and you also get good Thai food there.
You get good food there? Yes, sure. That's why people are going. That's an extraordinary name for a place isn't it?
Well, it's a building called Orchard Towers. You can just ask your promoter or something, they'll bring you there.
I don't think that's appropriate, but I wouldn't have thought that will be in Singapore because the laws seem very strict. You can't chew gum on the street, but you can go to a place called Four Floors of Whores. That's a very strange system.
If you can't do anything else so Saturday night... what do you do?
Wow. What an extradionary thing. Well I'm going to stick with Botanic Gardens. But thank you for the option. I'm definitely going to mention that on stage as well.
How do you think your teenage years have shaped your comedy today? Because you've mentioned before that your mum is very funny.
Yeah, she's very funny. I think men are kind of late in developing. I was quite earnest and serious, I was very obsessed by education when I was younger.
You got into Cambridge, that's huge.
I don't think your teenage years make your life. I think you come to a conclusion at some stage that you get to choose who you want to be in life.
And when did you get to that stage? Was it after you did that marketing job?
I was in my mid-'20s. I had a proper, serious job in a big oil company [editor's note: Shell] and I was doing fine. Having a good job and a good career, and a good education is the thing that holds you back from going "No, I want to join the service, be a performer and travel the world.' Luckily, I was young enough that I had nothing to lose.
When did you ever realise that you had this wicked sense of humour?
I guess it's almost like a personality disorder, like a need to please other people, to make other people laugh. So getting up on stage, the first time I did it, I thought, "This feels right, this might be the way to go".
There's that thing about humour being used as a defence mechanism. Have you ever felt that that was in your consciousness?
I don't think that's a thing people do it consciously. It sounds like a negative thing but the one time in life that you need comedy is when bad things happen. Life can be very tough and that's when you need a sense of humour. That's when it really comes in handy — to be able to lighten the mood and to lift people and yourself.
Comedy a lot of the time is about perspective. It's about stepping back from what's going on and finding a lighter side. If that's a defense or coping mechanism with life, then I think that's very important, I think people instinctively go to comedy or to go friends when they need to laugh, when they are reading the paper and it's more bad news about Trump and they go "Look, we need to do something".
When was the last time you really needed a big laugh?
Probably us getting knocked out of the World Cup. You need some fun after that right? Sometimes you don't know you need it as well. You didn't know you were carrying that weight until you start laughing.
You're notorious for your one-liners about someone's mum or girlfriend, have you ever been so mean to someone that he or she has cried?
Yeah. Sometimes you say things that are so mean, you just know that person's going to wake up at four in the morning in a cold sweat going "oh no". It's when something's not just funny but also true that it really devastates people.
As long as it's funny, that's the important thing. It's not just about being mean, it's got to be funny first.
So does Rob Beckett ever cry about his teeth, you think?
I don't know if he cries about his teeth, he has built a career around those teeth and he is pretty happy with it. I mean he can take a joke and he is an incredibly funny boy.
You see a lot of British comics coming to America and establishing a career across the pond — James Corden of course, Jack Whitehall and now Romesh Ranganathan. Do you think that America is ready for that sort of proper British comedy?
It's a weird perception that Americans don't have the same sense of humour. I'm doing 40 countries on this tour. The thing I've noticed is not the differences between countries, but the similarities. People with a sense of humour just want to come and see a show.
After a decade and a half in comedy, what do you think is the biggest lesson that you've learnt?
To relax. Everyone does everything better when they are relaxed. Maybe try and have fun, that's the big lesson. It takes a long time to get to that. I was really tense on stage, uptight and nervous in front of all these people. I think the lesson I've learnt as well is that you don't have a monopoly on the sense of humour because you're on stage. If people shout something out and it's funny, go with it.
How would you like to be remembered? Other than having a dolphin laugh which I really like.
I don't think I have any great desire to be remembered. I think when you're gone, you're gone. Comedy is of the moment, it's of this time. I don't think anyone's going to remember me at all.
Have you ever laughed until you wet yourself?
I have as a kid. We used to play a game when we were in school called Tickle Pee, have you ever played that? Where you tickle someone till they wee? It's a bizarre style of bullying is what it is.
Wow. that's horrible.
Well, you say that, but have at it. Have fun. You don't know the pleasure of that until you've tickled someone and they've done a lot of wee.
That's a whole other fetish I should explore probably.
A hundred percent. Take that to Four Floors of Whores and see how you get on.